What Is Charcot's Triad? (with pictures)

Toni Henthorn
Toni Henthorn
Fever is one of the three symptoms that make up Charcot's triad in reference to gastrointestinal illness, Charcot's triad.
Fever is one of the three symptoms that make up Charcot's triad in reference to gastrointestinal illness, Charcot's triad.

Charcot's triad refers to sets of three of symptoms that characterize a pair of diseases. The neurological Charcot's triad, consisting of nystagmus, intention tremor, and staccato or scanning speech, points to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Alternatively, when referring to gastrointestinal illness, Charcot's triad refers to the combination of right upper quadrant abdominal pain, fever, and jaundice. In these cases, Charcot's triad increases the likelihood that the patient has cholangitis, an infection of the bile ducts. Neither triad, however, invariably guarantees the diagnosis, since other diseases may produce the same symptoms.

The neurological Charcot's triad, consisting of nystagmus, intention tremor, and staccato or scanning speech, points to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
The neurological Charcot's triad, consisting of nystagmus, intention tremor, and staccato or scanning speech, points to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis is a progressive, degenerative neurologic disease in which the myelin sheaths that normally surround and insulate nerves begin to break down. Nerves cannot properly transmit electrical impulses without the normal myelin sheath. The symptoms of Charcot's triad occur as a result of myelin degeneration. Nystagmus is a jerky, rhythmic, involuntary eye movement, while intention tremor is a tremor that intensifies when the patient is deliberately attempting to use an extremity. Staccato speech is speech in which each syllable is enunciated separately, while scanning speech is slurred and droning in quality.

Charcot's triad increases the likelihood that a patient will develop an infection of the bile ducts.
Charcot's triad increases the likelihood that a patient will develop an infection of the bile ducts.

Bile is a body fluid produced by the liver that aids digestion. Cholangitis is an infection of the duct or tube that transports bile to the gallbladder and intestines. If the bile duct becomes obstructed by a gallstone, tumor, or scar tissue, bacteria can cause an infection in the duct, which can subsequently spread to the liver. Jaundice, which is yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes, happens when the normal excretion of bile is blocked. Fever and right upper quadrant pain occur as the infection develops in the liver and bile duct, which are located in the right upper abdomen. As the patient becomes more ill, hypotension and mental status changes combine with Charcot's triad to make up Reynold's pentad.

Charcot's triad will include pain in the right upper abdomen.
Charcot's triad will include pain in the right upper abdomen.

Both forms of Charcot's triad are named for Jean-Martin Charcot, a French neurologist who is widely considered to be the originator of modern neurology. One of Charcot's greatest contributions to medical science was his advancement of methodical neurological assessment and the correlation of clinical findings with specific disease entities. Charcot's name is associated with many other medical terms and designations, including Charcot-Bouchard aneurysms, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, and Charcot's disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease. Charcot also first described the Charcot joint, which is a weight-bearing joint that has degenerated due to loss of peripheral nerve sensitivity.

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    • Fever is one of the three symptoms that make up Charcot's triad in reference to gastrointestinal illness, Charcot's triad.
      Fever is one of the three symptoms that make up Charcot's triad in reference to gastrointestinal illness, Charcot's triad.
    • The neurological Charcot's triad, consisting of nystagmus, intention tremor, and staccato or scanning speech, points to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
      The neurological Charcot's triad, consisting of nystagmus, intention tremor, and staccato or scanning speech, points to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
    • Charcot's triad increases the likelihood that a patient will develop an infection of the bile ducts.
      Charcot's triad increases the likelihood that a patient will develop an infection of the bile ducts.
    • Charcot's triad will include pain in the right upper abdomen.
      Charcot's triad will include pain in the right upper abdomen.
    • Physical therapy can be used to treat the muscle weakness and fatigue associated with multiple sclerosis.
      Physical therapy can be used to treat the muscle weakness and fatigue associated with multiple sclerosis.
    • Cholangitis is an infection of the duct or tube that transports bile to the intestines.
      Cholangitis is an infection of the duct or tube that transports bile to the intestines.
    • Gallstones may cause blockages in the bile ducts.
      Gallstones may cause blockages in the bile ducts.